DARWIN, AUSTRALIA – Vehicles entered by four Japanese teams were among 38 solar-powered cars that set out Sunday from the northern Australian city of Darwin on a 3,000-km endurance race that will take them through the center of the continent.
Teams from 19 countries and regions entered this year’s World Solar Challenge, vying to be first across the finish line in the southern city of Adelaide.
They departed Darwin in order of their performance in time trials held Saturday, with Nagoya Institute of Technology’s car, Horizon 17, the second to take off behind Punch Two, the Belgian entrant.
Nagoya Institute of Technology team director Hiroki Tanaka said they have made a variety of design changes to this year’s racer and hope to improve on their previous performance in 2015, when they placed 16th.
“Compared to our previous cars, we’ve taken aerodynamics and energy loss into consideration (this year), and I really believe we can do well,” Tanaka, 20, said.
The second Japanese team to depart Darwin was Tokai University’s Tokai Challenger car.
The Tokyo-based university is one of this year’s favorites, having won the World Solar Challenge in 2009 and 2011.
Team general manager Hideki Kimura showed off the communication satellite imagery they will be using to track the car, as well as weather patterns, in real time in order to predict conditions for the race.
“We can see that toward Alice Springs (in central Australia) there is a lot of cloud cover,” Kimura, a 53-year-old professor, said, suggesting the team may have to change their plans to accommodate suboptimal conditions.
World Solar Challenge event director Chris Selwood said the number of considerations each team must take into account make for a challenging competition.
” ‘Race’ is such a nasty, short word for something so complex,” Selwood, 69, said.
“Strategy is key because the main goal for teams is to manage their energy efficiency. . . . I don’t expect more than 10-15 percent of teams to finish the challenge on their own power.”
Now in its 30th year, the World Solar Challenge has become one of the globe’s leading trials for innovations in solar technology, with talent scouts from companies like Tesla, NASA and Google keeping a close eye on teams.
One design that is sure to catch the attention of onlookers is Tokyo-based Kogakuin University’s car, Wing.
The team’s director, 44-year-old associate professor Hiroto Hamane, said the car’s unusual design has been inspired by nature, with the shape of the specially designed, curved solar panels mimicking the flow of air as it passes over the vehicle.
“With this car, we can actually say ‘we didn’t design this, nature designed this,’ ” Hamane said.But not all teams had access to state-of-the-art machinery to build their cars.
Both Nagoya Institute of Technology and Hiroshima-based Goko High School have proudly entered handmade vehicles.
The Nagoya students built their car through the university’s solar car club, shaving down the vehicle’s carbon fiber body by hand to save on production costs.
“It was difficult to create something that will be competing on a world stage with no lab space, no time, no money, and relying on our own skills,” said Tanaka. “(But) this year we have many more sponsors than in previous years, so I’m very grateful for their support.”
At the end of the first day of racing, Tokai University finished in second place, behind Nuon Solar Team of the Netherlands.
Kogakuin University and Nagoya Institute of Technology placed seventh and eighth, respectively, with Goko High School coming in at 14th.
Racers are expected to reach the finish line in Adelaide starting Thursday.
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